Why do we join groups?

By Kevin R. Betts

It seems that we are all a member of at least one group; most of us are a member of many. Although our membership within some of these groups is probably involuntary (e.g., family), we go out of our way to join other groups. We join book clubs, bowling leagues, congregations, and tag-football teams, just to name a few. Some of us even go so far as to join extremist groups such as terrorist cells or violent political movements. What draws us to seek membership within these varied groups? Why are we willing to sacrifice our own time, energy, and resources for the sake of the groups to which we belong?

Hogg, Hohman, and Rivera (2008) examined these questions from a social-psychological perspective by contrasting three motivational accounts for group membership. These explanations originate from work on the sociometer model, terror management theory, and uncertainty-identity theory. The sociometer model argues that people have a need to be belong, and that self-esteem acts as a meter of successful group belonging. Greater feelings of inclusion within groups should equate to higher levels of self-esteem according to this model. Terror management theory argues that people are motivated to reduce fear of their own death, and that groups provide consensual belief-confirmation that drives their members to belong. It is comforting to share our world views with like-minded others and to hear them share similar views because it provides us with a sense of meaningful existence. Uncertainty-identity theory argues that people have a basic need to reduce uncertainty about themselves and their place in the world, and that group identification can reduce such uncertainty. Group membership may reduce this uncertainty through its associated norms that prescribe attitudes, feelings, and behaviors for us.

Hogg et al. (2008) conclude that the sociometer model, terror-management theory, and uncertainty-identity theory each play a role in explaining why people join groups. Yet, they argue that uncertainty-identity theory might provide an especially powerful explanation because of its wide generality to all groups and group contexts. What do you think? Do these explanations account for why you joined the groups that you are a part of, or does some other framework better explain your reasons for group membership?

Read more:

Hogg, M.A., Hohman, Z.P., & Rivera, J.E. (2008). Why do people join groups? Three motivational accounts from social psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1269-1280.

Inside Al Qaeda (Newsweek)

N.Y. Anti-Mosque Leader Defends Group that Clashed with British Police (Newsweek)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

11 responses to “Why do we join groups?

  1. The uncertainty-identity theory could explain why so many college students join sororities and fraternities. College is also a time of so much uncertainty and personal identity development, and students are therefore influenced by the norms of the groups they join.

  2. Because we are social beings.

  3. We join groups for several reasons.The reasons differ from person to person however I think the most important factor is common interest whether it is cultural or professional.

  4. We join clubs for a plethora of reasons. For example, women are distinctly different from men and a person’s psychological state sometime dictate the decision to join. In effect, it depends on two basic things: state-of-mind and demographics. Of course there are other factors such as the type of club, the members, the vision of the club, the benefits the club provides, how much it costs and how much disposable income one has, for example, but these two are critical. Sometimes, it just feels good to have someone around you when things aren’t going well. It may be that simple. Each group must be evaluated individually.

  5. Pingback: Why Do We Join? | DadScribe

  6. individual join groups for power, affiliation, self esteem, status, security and for goal achievement

  7. Very interesting. I am researching why someone would want to join a community blog.

  8. I’m going to turn this around and ask “What reasons make people stay away from groups or clubs”?

    • Ponderable, I like that perspective. I tend to be in that camp. My time is precious to me and I like personal sovereignty. Also, I am not a fan of envy, competition and nosiness. My preference to affiliate is other sovereign, free-spirited people who know who they are and love their time as much as I love mine.

      • I have been waiting a long time for a reply to my question, you have indeed replied as I think. Unfortunately it is a decision that is rare and results in solitude.

  9. Pingback: Being called a Christian is not a God thing.. Its a man thing. | Im Here Yo!

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